School is back in session. Labor Day has passed. Next up: the highly anticipated holiday season! When many of us think of the holidays, images of children trick-or-treating, a big turkey dinner with all of the fixings, or a family sitting around the fireplace opening presents come to mind. However, for parents who have gone through a custody battle or who may be in the midst of one, holidays can conjure feelings of anxiety, resentment, and confusion. The same holidays that were celebrated as an intact family unit can now be spent fighting over the holiday schedule and losing focus on what really matters: the happiness and well-being of your children.
For a family law attorney, the holidays are the busiest time of the year. Clients often wait until the last minute to read the holiday schedule in their parenting agreement or custody order, and then need to request changes to it. Some are frantically trying to determine how the holidays will be spent when there is not a holiday schedule in place yet. In order to avoid the pitfalls that come with waiting until the last minute to determine where and with whom your child(ren) will be for each occasion, the time to think about the upcoming holidays is now.
If you have a custody schedule, sit down with a calendar and compare how your “regular” parenting schedule works with your “holiday” schedule. Often, one parent may have two consecutive weeks with the child(ren) during their winter break from school based on how the calendar works out in a given year. Knowing that now can alleviate last-minute panic and allow for better planning. If there are questions about the holiday schedule, determining that ahead of time allows your attorney to work with the other parent or opposing attorney to address any confusion as to how the schedule will work in practice.
If you do not have a regular or holiday parenting schedule in place, then each holiday will need to be decided upon with the other parent. Trying to sort this out just a few days before the occasion will most likely not turn out well for either parent, and most importantly, your child(ren). Talk with the other parent about expectations for the holidays. Are you going to share Thanksgiving Day, or are you going to alternate the Thanksgiving holiday each year? If one parent has Thanksgiving with the child(ren) this year, how does that affect the other parent’s position on the winter break holidays in December? Address those questions now, and you have a better chance of making it through the holidays with as little contention as possible.
Remember to be flexible. The holidays are not about winning or sticking it to the other parent. The focus should be on ensuring that children get equal time with each parent and that the family’s holiday traditions are observed as much as possible.
So if you feel it is too early to think about the holidays, consider this: Target and other big retail stores put out their holiday items approximately two months before each holiday. While most of us think this a bit premature, maybe they have it right.
Written By: Sodoma Law Attorney Robin M. Goulet